A week ago, church communications guru Tim Schraeder wrote a blog post that explored the subject of wonder in the church. His closing question: “When was the last time you left church in aweâ€¦ not of the production, music, lights, or anything elseâ€¦ but truly left in awe of who God is and what Heâ€™s done?”
Now for a girl who likes an experiential, interactive worship service, this question made perfect sense to me. But I know there are others who might question the necessity of a wonder filled experience, especially in a religious setting. Won’t that make us more susceptible to brainwashing? Won’t we be manipulated to react emotionally?
Well, now I have the definitive answer for you. And it comes from Oprah herself.
Pause here for dramatic crowd reaction. Are you shocked? Well, it comes from Oprah somewhat indirectly. I found it in the Favorite Things edition of O Magazine (December 2010).
You can read the fascinating article by David Hochman here, but I’ll sum up by telling you that your need for wonder is now scientifically proven. Mom, believing in Santa is good for you! Dad, standing on mountaintops is practically prescribed! Dan, snuggling newborns makes you a better person!
Hochman describes a university study that asked participants to complete 20 statements that started, “I am . . . ” Divided into two groups, half the participants completed the statements while facing a life-size replica of a Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton. The other half completed their statements while sitting in a hallway.
From the article:
The result: People who could see the awe-inducing T. rex were three times likelier to describe themselves as part of something larger (“I am an organic form,” “I am part of the human species”) than those who completed the questionnaire facing the hallway (“I am a soccer player,” “I am a member of the Tri Delta sorority”). In Keltner’s words, awe shifts a person’s thinking “toward the collective.”
“With awe, it’s not, ‘Wow, that’s a really tall dinosaur,'” he says. “It’s, ‘Wow, there’s something bigger than me.'” And the feeling can become a spur to action;
In other words:
Scientists say it pays to cultivate more wonder in your life, whether by forwarding heart-swelling news stories or hiking the Grand Canyon. That’s because channeling awe not only produces pleasant physiological effectsâ€”such as the warm feeling in the chest activated by the vagus nerveâ€”and gives a sense of fulfillment; it “can help a person reflect on how an upsetting event fits into their philosophy of life, or how their personal experience unites them with humanity,” says Michelle Shiota, PhD, an assistant professor of psychology at Arizona State University.
Fortunately, there is no season as awe-inspiring as Christmas. If I’m looking for ways to add more wonder to my life, I don’t have to look far right now. In fact, last week it happened in 5th grade music. Struggling with the words to verse three of “Silent Night,” my students needed help decoding the old-fashioned language. Explaining it to them, I was struck by the beauty myself:
Silent Night, Holy Night
Son of God, Love’s pure light
Radiant beams from Thy holy face
With the dawn of redeeming grace
Jesus, Lord at Thy Birth! Jesus, Lord at Thy Birth!
That songwriter had an idea about how to cultivate wonder. Just imagine looking upon the infant Jesus, the God-head humbled into human flesh, and yet shining on his face was the beginning of all our hopes for salvation fulfilled. There’s a little bit of that in every newborn face, too. Wonder isn’t hard to find. If you need some ideas, check O Magazine’s suggestions here. But I think you know what to do.
Chase wonder this holiday season.